30 January, 2009

The Pork, The Parks, The Politics

This is how fat cat Democrats line their own nests.

What will a double-budget for the National Parks do to ‘stimulate’ the economy? Nothing. But it will enrich Democrats, give them more power, and help get votes.

It’s PORK!!!

Nothing else.

Against all better judgment I’m going to go in an obviously imprudent direction and tackle the world of politics as it relates to the current stimulus plan. Masochist that I am, I often enter the world of Rush Limbaugh on my way to and from lunch as a means of taking the pulse of the Right Wing in our country. I laughed as I heard him complain about the cost of the inauguration ceremonies during a time of economic distress, as if he would complain so loudly given a newly-minted Republican president with the ability to draw such a huge throng to the National Mall. Every once in a while I think the guy has a point, though by and large I just yell at the radio and worry about a large segment of our country who look to Rush as the epitome of sanity (I feel the same distress when I check out lefty blogs as well – the curse of being a “spineless” moderate). I was moved to tackle this post when I heard Rush yesterday complaining about the presence of nearly 2 billion dollars in the House stimulus bill for the National Parks Service.

The quote at the top of this post, which is reflective of the comments I heard from Rush, came from the comments section of this newspaper article detailing the beef some Republicans have against the money in the bill. Apparently the Democratic ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee happens to have a son who lobbies on behalf of the NPS. It has been made clear that the son does not lobby his father directly (makes you wonder why ethicists haven’t pointed out the massive conflict of interest inherent in having Jesus lobby Dad on our behalf), though this has done little to keep the opposition from crying “Pork!” on the whole business. Apparently the commenter feels that this 2 billion dollars would only serve to enrich Democrats, though he offers no mechanism for how this scenario would come about. In reality, the NPS has a maintenance backlog which runs as high as 9 billion dollars according to some estimates. It is hoped that this stimulus money would take a large bite out of that backlog while improving the quality and attractiveness of park facilities and putting large chunks of money into the design and construction industry accomplishing those projects. While you could argue that a lot of design professionals fall to the left of the political spectrum, it would seem that the lion’s share of this stimulus money would go to the construction companies and contractors working on park infrastructure projects – not necessarily a hotbed of liberal advocacy.

It is this thought process which has led me to lament the emergence of “pork” as the new taboo of American politics. While I understand the problems posed by conflicts of interest in appropriating taxpayer funds, I don’t think that the presence of a possible conflict of interest should preempt an honest investigation into the merits of the appropriations being discussed. Rather than bothering to find out what the NPS would do with an extra 2 billion dollars, the opposition simply tarred the whole pot with the pork label, conveniently allowing them to ignore actual issues while painting Democrats as purveyors of nepotism. They ignore the fact that it wasn’t even the father who introduced the earmark and somehow insinuate that both the father and the son are getting some sort of underhanded benefit from the whole mess. Why is it so awful that the son was successful at his job? It is his job to scrape together as much funding as possible for the NPS seeing as how their annual operating budget has not been enough to prevent the accumulation of a 9 billion dollar maintenance backlog. When he is successful at carving out a chunk of the American Bailout Pie Rush gets his panties in a bunch because Daddy happens to be a congressman on the Appropriations Committee. I mean, come on, it’s not as if anyone else in the country cares what the hell happens to our National Parks – right? Not to mention the fact that the son is a federal employee, meaning his compensation is regulated by federal executive compensation rules. He is not going to mysteriously end up with millions of dollars in his bank account to share with Daddy.

All of that and I’m not even a huge supporter of an extra 2 billion dollars for the NPS! I think its effectiveness as a stimulus is dubious at best and while I would love to see the National Parks infrastructure improved, I’m not sure it’s the best use of stimulus dollars in the current situation. However, let’s make those judgments based on the issues and not as a response to some sort of sinister inside baseball on the part of the evil Democrats.

15 January, 2009

New Orleans Drops Acid

I brought this up in a comment below from my Corbusier post and wanted to give the visual. The picture you have just seen is a proposed house designed by Rotterdam based MVRDV for Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation. I want to unequivocally state that I have a lot of respect for any organization trying to improve the lives of the inhabitants of New Orleans before I completely trash this particular effort (if you can call it an effort).

That being said, I'm at a loss for why this would ever be considered as an option for a fabric type of architectural building. What I mean is that there would be multiple iterations of this project, possibly on the same street. What could certainly pass as the folly of a single eccentric has no place as a valid or informed response to the society, culture, and environment of New Orleans. And yet there are still people out there who are absolutely bumfuzzled by the idea that people don't immediately fall in love with the pure genius of the deconstructivist dystopianism of the thing.
As a postscript I will say that the houses actually under construction aren't nearly this bad, though I'm still less than enthused with the effort to dialogue with traditional New Orleans history and forms. More to come...