Friday, August 24, 2007


And here you have it, the the primary reason that our presidential elections are so screwed up, from a Reuters news story posted today:
The presidential election is 14 months away and with as many as 17 candidates now running, U.S. television and radio broadcasters are elated at the prospect of billions more in advertising dollars...

Wall Street analysts predict television stations alone could bring in a record $2 billion to $3 billion from the 2008 election cycle, up from $1.6 billion in 2006 and $900 million in 2004. Companies expected to benefit include CBS Corp., Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. and Meredith Corp., with the latter two particularly seen benefiting in the early voting states.

The candidates have to start campaigning earlier to raise enough money to compete. The earlier campaigning means they spend more money. It's a vicious circle.

Raising all that money makes the candidates beholden to their contributors, and to the ever-increasing number of lobbyists and special interests. This, in turn, taints those who win, with the lobbyists and special interests making sure to call in their favors when it's time to govern.

It's all about the money. Cut the money out of the process, and you get cleaner government, less campaigning, and shorter election cycles.

The problem is, who makes all that money? Big media companies do. And if we cut the money out of the process, they stand to lose enormous amounts of revenues and profits. So you don't see big media companies pushing for election reform. No sir, you don't. It's not in their best interests.

It is in the interests of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN to prolong the election cycle. The longer the election cycle, the more money they make. So why not drum up false stories and suspense as early as possible? There's big money in it.

A shorter election cycle would be a good thing. Elections without billions spent on television, radio, and newspaper advertising would be a good thing. Politicians who didn't have to spend all their time raising money -- and then taking orders from donors and lobbyists -- would be a good thing. But the media isn't interested in a good thing, they're interested in their own profits.

And that's why we'll never have significant election reform. Hell, you'll never even hear about any such efforts; the media simply won't report them.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota is disturbing on many levels. The personal, of course; I've driven across that bridge several times, a friend of mine drove it every day, and one of my girlfriend's church friends was best friends with someone killed in the tragedy. But more than that, there is the sense that this particular incident is indicative of a larger decay in American society. If one bridge can collapse, why not more?

It's interesting that the I-35 bridge was located in Minnesota, a state with a very good record of infrastructure maintenance; the Minnesotans are a very civic-minded people. I would have thought a collapse like this more likely in a place like Illinois, where the state of the state's infrastructure defines the word decrepitude. I hate driving through Illinois; the roads are in horrible shape, and the bridges worse. It wouldn't surprise me to wake up some morning and find that the entire El system had turned to dust overnight, the crumbling streets having swallowed tracks and trains whole. But we can only dream.

The fact that something like this happened in a state like Minnesota makes it even more disturbing. But it's far from the first of these infrastructure collapses; in recent years, witness also the levees in New Orleans, the steam pipes in New York City, and other less well-known incidents. Things fall apart; the center will not hold.

The 20th century in America was a century of construction -- massive, impressive projects, from the Hoover Dam to the Empire State Building to the entire interstate highway system. The 21st century, however, will be a century of maintenance; all those massive constructions have to be maintained, or they'll fall apart. And, as the I-35 bridge demonstrates, things can fall apart quite quickly, and with tragic results.

The problem is, maintenance isn't sexy. No congressman wants to sponsor the "White River Parkway Repaving Bill," when they can put their name on the "Ted Stevens Bridge to Nowhere Bill." And it's not just our politicians; the public doesn't like to spend money on boring stuff like this. In fact, the public doesn't want to spend money on much, except perhaps big-screen TVs; they want the services, but without the taxes. It doesn't work that way.

Unless we start spending on maintaining our infrastructure, we'll see more tragedies such as the I-35 bridge collapse. Somehow we have to get our minds (and our wallets) around the benefits of spending to maintain the things we have, rather than buying new and sexier things.

Experts say it will cost $188 billion and take several decades to repair all those bridges similarly deficient to Minnesota's I-35 bridge. That seems like a lot, until you consider the $1 trillion spent on the Iraq war. Which is the better investment -- $188 billion to keep our country intact, or five times that amount to destroy a foreign country? I know which one I'd choose.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree